The Workers' Party: Its Evolution and Its future: A Critique
Organisation: Communist Party of Ireland
Author:Eoin Ó Murchú
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Subjects: Workers' Party

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

4th February 2008

A guest Left Archive post from John O’Neill of the Irish Socialist Network (their excellent site is here )

Eoin Ó Murchú - The Workers’ Party: Its Evolution and Its Future: A Critique

(Scanned from Irish Socialist Review, September 1982)

This is a lengthy (26 pages) article written by Eoin O’Murchú former Ard Comhairle member of ‘Official’ Sinn Fein and editor of their newspaper “The United Irishman”. He defected to the Communist Party after a leadership struggle possibly around the time he was replaced as Editor of the ‘UI’ and went on to hold the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland. He resigned from the CPI although why and when I am unsure.

This article is interesting in part, particularly as he was on the A/C (Ard Comhairle - party executive) and outlines some of the strategy, policy and directional struggles that took place within OSF/SFWP. However it should be remembered that O’Murchu is writing the article from a CPI perspective and his conclusions would have had to coincide with the overall analysis of that Party. He gives certain people a positive mention like Cathal Goulding and Tomás MacGiolla but it is obvious that he had little time for Seamus Costello and Eamon Smullen with Garland somewhere ‘in between’ in his estimation.

Goulding’s speech at Bodenstown in 1967 is identified as the first shift in orientation from traditional physical force republicanism and The Irish Industrial Revolution as the departure from traditional Marxist analysis. On the PIRA, O’Murchu argues that the Officials made a disastrous error of judgement in refusing to either criticise or respond to any PIRA statements thus lending credibility to accusations they made about the Officials. The attempt by the PIRA to wipe out the OIRA in 1972 is seen as the event that brought about a “propaganda offensive that they have never since refrained from.”

As all of these events were before my involvement and the fact that I was never an Ard Comhairle member I cannot really verify any of them. Hopefully some others who contribute to the site are older and can recall some of the internal ideological disputes referred to.

I would also mention that when I asked people in the WP about O’Murchu the overall impression I was given was that he was quiet, intelligent and arrogant and people felt that he had ‘risen through the ranks’ too hastily (possibly with assistance from Goulding?) He had (rightly) argued that internal education was essential to the Party but it is alleged that he wanted potential members to sit an exam before being accepted as full members!

I hope the publication of this article generates an intense intelligent debate that Cedar Lounge is renowned for. All typo’s are down to me and my scanner.

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  • By: Garibaldy Fri, 08 Feb 2008 00:12:51

    I’d certainly be inclined to agree. But John O’Neill was suggesting that in having the Iraqi CP speak, it represented an endorsement. Whereas my point was that it’s not for any party outside Iraq to decide what they should do any more than it was for, say, the French CP to dictate WP attitudes to the Troubles. So I left out mu opinion so as not to muddy the waters.

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  • By: John O'Neill Wed, 13 Feb 2008 12:43:06

    Garabaldi says “This is not a decision making-body, but a discussion forum for progressive elements within NI. Part of its purpose since its inception has been to allow members and supporters to hear speakers from a range of political positions, and to encourage dialogue between different parties and groups. So there have been UUP, SDLP, Alliance, Labour”

    Fair enough, I stand corrected on the conference, but I can’t buy your point that the Iraqi CP, no matter how well intentioned its aims partaking in a government set up by the occupying powers who’s sole aim has been to plunder the country. Any party involved in the government of Iraq only gives legitimacy to the Imperialist invader.

    I also don’t buy that Parties cannot comment or analyse developments on the left outside of their respective countries. The left in Ireland have critiqued leftist developments from Scotland to Venezuela rightly or wrongly.

    I am also strange that any self professed Marxist party would see any value in dialoguing with “progressive elements” such as the UUP, SDLP, Alliance and (UK?) Labour. It all sounds very ‘cosy’ but on what basis are they progressive? All are bourgeois Parties and have nothing in common with the stated aims of the WP. Where’s the class politics?

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  • By: John O'Neill Wed, 13 Feb 2008 12:44:35

    whoops! last para should start I also find it strange…..

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 13 Feb 2008 13:38:57

    My original quote should have been UUP, SDLP, Alliance, Labour speakers but I left the speakers bit out by accident. The parties themselves are not progressive but elements within them are. Why are some elements of the bourgeois parties progressive in NI? Quite simply, because sectarianism is the core issue facing NI society, and some elements within those parties are opposed to it. It was all the more important during the Troubles that all those opposed to the sectarian murder of workers (and let’s not forget that the numbers of middle class people killed were tiny) acted in concert where possible. And in the new dispensation, with the instutionalisation of sectarian headcounts in the Assembly, cooperation remains key. Sectarianism is a class issue as it is overwhelmingly workers who suffer because of it.

    On the broader question of cooperating with bourgeois parties, or elements within them, I’d have thought that, especially in the current climate of a very weak left, the answer was obvious. If someone wants to defend (or in the south establish!) a health system and defend public services, or oppose the Lisbon treaty, or democratise and secularise the state, then I see no problem whatsoever with working with them without demanding that they sign up completely to everything I believe in. If I thought like that, I’d join an ultra-left sect. And I’d be very suprised if that wasn’t your attitude to cooperation too John.

    The class politics therefore to me runs through everything discussed above. What is in the best interests of workers now, and in the long term? To break down sectarianism, and to defend public services, and promote democracy and secularism. When these are secured and the left has revitalised itself, a move to a more traditional set of demands will meet with more success instead of resulting in being labelled as out of touch with reality.

    On the Iraqi thing. It’s not a matter of not adopting critical positions towards the policies of others as such, but a matter of not saying that if you don’t share our analysis of events in your country then you have put yourself outside the communist and workers’ movement and we won’t talk to you. That isn’t helpful. They are the people on the ground dealing with the situation. As I said above, personally I’d be inclined to accept the validity of their analysis when dealing with the fait accompli of the occupation and the existence of a government regardless of whether they are in it or not. At a time when a constitution is being remade and there is a serious risk of it being religiously-dominated, I can understand there desire to be involved. I can also understand why people think they are in the wrong. I still think it is important to give people here a chance to hear what they say.

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  • By: Mark P Wed, 13 Feb 2008 15:35:15

    Garibaldy: Your reference to a letter from the SP in comment number 14 is misleading in the extreme and leaves the context in which it was written out entirely.

    The background to the letter was that striking classroom assistants had protested outside Ruane’s office. Some of them carried placards comparing Ruane to Thatcher.

    The SF response was to try and throw mud by claiming that it was a grievous insult to the memories of Sands and other hunger strikers to compare strike breaking Sinn Fein Ministers to Thatcher. This was unfortunately, in a West Belfast context, a point that had to be answered.

    The letter was written in response to this red herring and one of the points it made was that Sands claimed to be a socialist and that attacking workers on strike was hardly compatible with socialism. The letter very carefully and deliberately did not describe Sands as a socialist, but merely pointed out that he claimed to be one, which is, for the purposes of undermining SF’s attacks, what matters here.

    The other point it made was that Thatcher would indeed have approved of Ruane and SF’s opposition to the strikers.

    The Socialist Party has made no attempt whatsoever to recruit disillusioned provos by arguing that SF are insufficiently nationalist. Our criticisms of them remain that they are a firmly capitalist party and that they act to increase rather than decrease sectarian division.

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  • By: CL Wed, 13 Feb 2008 19:48:46

    The O Murchu piece clearly shows the influence of the IIR and the acceptance of economic orthodoxy. What is amazing is how readily an allegedly revolutionary political organization, SFWP, accepted bourgeois economics. This ‘mid-Atlantic’, Anglo-American economics, is now the hegemonic ideology and the weakness of the Left is seen in its inability to contest it.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 14 Feb 2008 08:50:52

    CL, I’m curious, have your read the IIR?

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  • By: Garibaldy Thu, 14 Feb 2008 15:36:52


    I don’t feel it was misleading. I do think it was cynical. The appeal to Sands is a very loaded one with certain connotations. I think it was a mistake.


    It was more an argument that if capitalism produces its own gravediggers then perhaps more advanced capitalism might in the long run open opportunities for the development of working class politics. Rather than an acceptance of economic orthodoxy.

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  • By: John O'Neill Thu, 14 Feb 2008 15:44:41

    Garabaldi – If the discussions were around sectarianism what was the outcome? What was achieved? Is there to be a broad campaign to be launched against sectarianism in cooperation with these Parties? If so I would welcome this as a positive development. But the UUP and, to a lesser extent, the SDLP wouldn’t be immune to sectarianism within their own ranks and supporters. So how does discussing the problem of sectarianism with progressive elements of the UUP or the SDLP forward the cause of eliminating sectarianism when they haven’t even got their own houses in order?

    On the question of broad fronts, of course I agree that all left groups should involve themselves in campaigns and I believe that all the so called “ultra left sects” do to. (BTW ultra left is usually a Stalinist/Trotskyist derogatory term to describe other left groups).

    Personally, I believe that the SWP, SP, CP, WP, etc. organisations are all part of the radical left and I have more in common with them than any bourgeoisie party, including Labour. For me they are all part of the way forward for Ireland because they engage in the struggle to politicise the working class, are class conscious organisations and all deserving the progressive label.

    As for arguing for unrealistic or ‘revolutionary’ demands, you should take a look at the article here to see where going down the logic of a ‘realistic’ road can lead.

    The left is indeed weak. There are a multitude of reasons for our weakness and the left could and should be discussing and seeking to develop strategies to move to a stronger position. But unfortunately this isn’t on the cards at the moment.

    On Iraq – I think the future is bleak. It looks like as soon as the US imperialists withdraw, the constitution and everything else will that is tainted with US involvement will be jettisoned and there is a real possibility unfortunately of sectarian civil war. The Iraqi CP are not the only organisation opposed to sectarianism and fundamentalism. There are other Marxist Parties in Iraq that are on the ground and have taken different positions like the Worker Communist Party of Iraq and their analysis of the ICP is; “In this new stage, the ICP has taken its clear and overt position alongside the Right forces in the society, beside the US and the Islamic and ethnocentric forces. It has no leftist or communist features.”

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  • By: CL Thu, 14 Feb 2008 16:56:47

    WBS, yes I have read the IIR. I still it strange that a ‘marxist’ organization would produce such a document, and that it would have such an influence. It ignores so much other work in the marxist tradition, e.g. Sweezy and Baran and the Monthly Review, the work of Samir Amin, World System theory, and the great work of Walter Rodney. And it ignored Marx’s work on Ireland-Hazelkorn had taken some pains to show how Marx on Ireland was not quite marxist! An approach which accepts, and indeed promotes, the IDA’s views, the views of T.K. Whittaker and those of Sean Lemass is, I think, promoting economic orthodoxy. Perhaps its no accident that one of its authors later became an adviser to F.G. and to the Unionist Party. As well as its economic orthodoxy the IIR accepts the work of conventional, academic historians, although its use of vulgar marxist jargon does give it a patina of radicalism.

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  • By: CL Thu, 14 Feb 2008 18:10:46

    Also the IIR is remarkably similar to the work of BICO’s Bill Warren and is quiet congruent with modern-day proponents of imperialism.

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  • By: Fred Thu, 14 Feb 2008 18:26:23

    While I think the IIR had its purposes as a ideological document that could put fire in the belly and aid the dynamic of the SFWP I have to agree with some of CL criticisms, the document does clearly borrow from modernisation theory, and is strikingly unMarxist in many senses – it is a sign post on the way to where things like Harris and some to the former trot neo-cons would end up, that does not mean it is not a Leftwing document all it means is that it has strands if developed which bring it far from the Left towards the lonney right.

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  • By: Starkadder Thu, 14 Feb 2008 18:46:06

    “Also the IIR is remarkably similar to the work of BICO’s Bill Warren and is quiet congruent with modern-day proponents of imperialism.”

    That’s interesting, CL. Would those “modern-day proponents”
    include right-wings like Niall Ferguson and Paul Johnson?

    Both Bill Warren and Frank Furedi of the Revolutionary
    Communist Party argued that the creation of a global capitalist
    market were a necessary pre-requisite for the creation
    of a socialist society. I would agree with CL that these
    views (Harris,Warren,Furedi) would be compatible with
    “economic orthodoxy”.

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  • By: Ex CPI Thu, 22 May 2008 10:12:34

    Just a little point! As a former member of the CPI I would like to say that as far as I know Eoin was never Gen. Sec. Around 89-90 Red Mick Retired as Gen. Sec. and Jimmy Steward Took over than around 2001 Eugene McCartan got the Gen. Sec. post

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Thu, 22 May 2008 17:26:57

    Ex CPI, I’m sure you’re right. What was his position then inside the CPI?

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  • By: Irish Left Archive: Republican Worker, Official Sinn Féin, 1976 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Mon, 19 Jan 2009 06:56:05

    […] it happens this is also mentioned here in the Left Archive in the Critique by Eoin O’Murchu of the Workers’ Party. For another […]

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  • By: Sun, 04 Nov 2012 01:10:10

    I went to so called educating classes in Mornington County Meath
    .The problem was they were asking folks with not much education to take on board policies,they could not even prounounce.O,Murochi and his ilk did not have much time for poor folk from belfast or Dublin its my way or the highway.As I think the Democratic left were the same,they were not involved in education.get powet,and we know power corrups and the formation of the labour party proves it.

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  • By: Reed Wed, 02 Mar 2016 16:19:40

    Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this web site before but after
    looking at many of the posts I realized it’s
    new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I discovered it and I’ll be bookmarking it
    and checking back often!

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  • By: Brian Patterson Sat, 12 Jan 2019 21:10:39

    An astute analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Official Republican movement whose internal contradictions led to its ultimate irrelavence.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Sat, 12 Jan 2019 21:17:56

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    Eoin was editor of the United Irishman. He was ousted from this. To the great satisifaction of many. I think to the satisifaction of what was the Garland/Costello axis. I may be mistaken on this.

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